Ready or Not
I had to take a test yesterday, and I did not feel ready. You know the feeling – you have studied for hours, but the material still seems overwhelming. You ask yourself review questions, but you know there are details you don’t remember. You wonder what the essay questions will be like, and what length your answer should be to get the maximum amount of points. Then you wonder whether or not you know enough about the subject to make an answer last that long. I didn’t feel ready, but it was time.
Maybe that is just me, but I don’t know if I have ever felt “ready” for a test. I always feel like one more look through my notes will help. There is always at least one question on a test (often more than one) that makes me kick myself for not paying more attention to a certain block of material. But I had to take it today. I took the test, not because I was ready, but because it was time.
It would have been easier to put it off until tomorrow, or maybe even Friday. During that time, I could go over the lecture notes, and maybe even see if Kathryn would ask me review questions out loud. If I wanted to get really creative, I could make a mock test of my own and see how I would do. I could do additional reading on the subject to shed extra light on the areas I need to know. It would certainly be more comfortable to keep studying, and I wouldn’t risk getting a bad grade if I avoided taking the test. But it was time.
I enjoy reading, and I love ministry. This means I like to read things about ministry – books, blog posts, and everything in between. There is no shortage of material online today about how Christianity is declining, and specifically what the Church of Christ should do in order to grow. That is what blogs are designed to do, share opinions and exchange ideas about topics that matter, and the church certainly matters. I have learned a great deal about life, ministry, and scripture from reading these kinds of blog entries (and even the comments sections).
But I believe there can be an unintended consequence to some of this discussion, if we are not careful. It becomes easy to focus on the shortcomings of the church and dwell on what we should be doing differently. The church is made up of human beings, and you won’t catch me arguing that we always act perfectly. We need to have a healthy discontent with the status quo and dream of what God could do through us in the future. But dwelling on only those thoughts can turn self-reflection into inaction. Negative thinking can take hold, and before long, our conversation is filled primarily with what the church has done or is doing wrong, with little thought to the ways God is blessing us and giving us opportunities to serve.
In some cases, the church and its members become the brunt of jokes about tradition, belief, etc. I realize we need to be able to laugh at ourselves, but we can all tell when the line has been crossed and the discussion goes from light-hearted to cynical. About a year ago, I was surprised to hear the way my four year old son was talking to our dog. Our miniature schnauzer tends to bark a lot, and he harshly commanded her to “Be Quiet!” My surprise wore off when I realized he had learned how to do that by listening to me. Our dog’s barking can be annoying, and I have snapped at her more than once. That is where he picked up the command, as well as the tone of voice. Here’s a question – if our children constantly hear us making jokes at the expense of the church and making cynical, sarcastic comments about it, what are they learning to say?
What is tempting about all of this is that it is much easier to stay in a state of inaction rather than to step out in service. It is more convenient to say, “If only the church were more like (fill in the blank), then we could really grow.” “If only we would (fill in the blank), more people would want to be involved.” “If our understanding could progress to the point that we realize (fill in the blank), then we would have enthusiastic Christians ready to shine God’s light throughout the world.” “If these things would happen, then we would be ready to make a difference.”
So we wait.
Here’s the thing – I think we have a choice to make. We can choose to wait until everyone in the church was more like (fill in the blank), begins to (fill in the blank), and realizes (fill in the blank), and then we can begin doing the work of ministry. Or, we could understand that people are imperfect and start serving anyway. If we opt for Door #1, then we will be waiting a looong time. If we opt for Door #2, we might be surprised. I think it is possible that the church can grow and people can be reached when they see loving, sincere Christians reflecting Christ in everyday service. Excited servants of God might even get other Christians excited to serve. Who knows what could happen if we begin serving with our entire beings?
We could put this off. Choosing to do that would probably be easier, at least at first. We would avoid having to face failure or feeling rejected others. We could keep our conversations about the church hypothetical, and future possibilities could remain only possibilities. We might wish things were different. We might wish Christians were perfect. We might not feel ready to serve.
But it is time.
Ready or not…